The Significant Days of Bal Gangadhar Tilak

The Biography of Famous Personalities of India will tell you about the controversies, the dark sides of a person that you may have never heard of.

The Significant Days of Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bhaskarbuwa Bhakle in a concert; at the extreme right is Bai Gangadhar Tilak
The Significant Days of Bal Gangadhar Tilak 1

There was a significant phase in his life. It started from 1890, when Tilak left the Educational field, and 1897, when he was imprisoned. This phase was very significant in the life of Tilak. During this period. Tilak the Teacher became Tilak the Politician. The director of an institution became a national leader.

The exceptional energy, so far hidden in him, now raced forth in many directions. In seven brief years, he acquired the experience of seventy years. In addition to the two weeklies, he was running classes for students of Law. He was constantly advocating about bringing new changes through his writings in the weeklies.

He actually waged a war against the Government for the sake of social reforms. He issued a call for the banning of child marriage and welcomed widow marriage.

Through the celebrations of Ganapathi festival and the birthday of the Shivaji, he organized people. He was a member of the Municipal Council of Pune, a member of the Bombay Legislature, and an elected ‘Fellow’ of the Bombay University. He was also taking a leading part in the Congress sessions. Added to these, he wrote and published his maiden work ‘The Orion’.

Such were Tilak’s achievements in this brief span of seven years. Tilak managed to transform the local festivities of Ganesha and Shivaji into national festivals. It was proof of his organizing ability and shrewdness.

In 1896, famine broke out in India. Tilak pressed the government to relieve the distress of the people at once. He helped the farmers affected by the famine.

He collected information about the conditions in every district and published it in the ‘Mahratta’ and the Kesari. Plague broke out while the people were still in the grip of famine. Tilak opened some hospitals and, with the help of volunteers, looked after the patients.

Though the people were in the grip of famine and plague, the government was indifferent. The Viceroy himself said that there was no cause for anxiety. He also said that there was no need to start a ‘Famine Relief Fund’. Revenue collection went on as usual.

The government’s act of ignorance was severely criticized in the articles published in Tilak’s papers. He published fearlessly reports about the havoc caused by famine and plague and government’s utter irresponsibility and indifference.

In the editorials, Tilak made appeals to the people and gave them advice. He explained them about the ‘Famine Relief Act’. He exhorted them to demand relief from the government as their right. “Are you cowards even while you are dying? Can’t you gather courage?”, he questioned the people. He gave constructive suggestions to the government to control the plague.

The government made preparations to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign. On other side, people were busy cremating the victims of the plague.

After great demand, the government appointed a Special Plague Officer to arrest the havoc of the plague. His name was Rand and he was more terrible than the plague itself. He sent armed police to make the people vacate the houses in which plague had entered.

The police forcibly entered the houses and terrified people with their guns. They admitted to the hospital’s someone they could catch no matter whether he was suffering from plague or not. They took the remaining members of the family to distant camps; they burnt all their belongings on the assumption that they spread the infection. But, in his own hospitals, Tilak was toiling day and night to save the lives of plague-affected people.

A youth, enraged by the senselessness of the government’s anti-plague measures, shot the Special Plague Officer, Rand dead. The police reacted violently and acts of injustice and cruelty multiplied.

Tilak’s blood boiled. Under the title “Has the Government gone mad?” Tilak condemned in the Kesari the immoral acts of the government.

The government could not ignore the writings of Tilak. It came to a conclusion that if Tilak was free it could not survive. By some means or the other Tilak must be locked up behind the bars.

The government suspected that Tilak might have had a hand in Rand’s murder.

Tilak was charged with writing articles instigating people to rise against the government and to break the laws and disturb the peace. He was sentenced to a year and a half’s rigorous imprisonment.

Tilak wrote aggressively against the British through his editorial of Kesari against the British bureaucracy.

The British bureaucracy and the Anglo-Indian press realised that Tilak was an emerging leader of the people and of a new spirit in India. Those who lacked foresight began to fear him.

In tense atmosphere of famine, a young man, Damodar Chaphekar had assassinated Rand who was the British official in charge of the plague.

Those who feared Rand, were quick to blame Tilak for the death, and hinted at his complicity in a conspiracy for political assassination. Tilak was, of course, innocent of any knowledge of or collaboration in this crime.

Tilak had publicly disagreed with Rand for his unsympathetic behaviour towards the plague stricken people. He had condemned the inhuman aspects of the British anti-plague campaign, but he had never contemplated or encouraged the assassination of the British official in charge. It happened beyond his knowledge.

Tilak, nevertheless, was brought to trial in 1897, not as an accessory to assassination, not as being involved in the plot to commit murder, but rather on the charge of ‘sedition’.

The court allowed the prosecution to argue that he had written seditious matter and his criminal sedition constituted, in effect, ‘dissatisfaction’ with the British Raj. It was brought to the notice of the court that Tilak was not positively “affectionate for” British officialdom.

This was one of the most unusual interpretations of sedition and disaffection in the annals of British justice. Nevertheless, Tilak was convicted and sentenced. The British had miscalculated both the effect of this sentence on Tilak and on public opinion.

His arrest and prosecution in 1897 was a sensation that nearly pulled the mind of the country by its roots, as political prosecutions were then extremely rare, and Tilak was, in himself a man big enough to mark an epoch by his personal misfortune. The sedition case in 1897 roused sympathy not only in Maharashtra but also in Bengal. In Bengal, Shishir Kumar Motilal Ghosh and Surendranath Bannerjee started raising funds for defence of Tilak.

The court found Tilak guilty but his prestige rose very high in the minds of the people. Max Mueller and Indian leaders submitted a memorial to the government for the early release of Tilak. The government also soon realised the mistake and released Tilak.

After his release, he became a national hero. He got following outside Maharashtra. He became the first all- India national leader. He had been persecuted for his political opinions. He was now the acknowledged political leader of the nation and the nation was prepared to heed his opinions.

He had begun as an awakener of the people and as a critic of bureaucratic abuses. He emerged from prison with the responsibility of leading the nationalist cause to political self-determination. He was acclaimed as the Lokamanya, the honoured and respected of the people.

Tilak had a great knowledge and love for the classical Indian values. This had prepared him with a personal philosophy and a frame of reference for his battles with social reformism and with the spirit of orthodoxy.

It also provided him with the foundation of his emerging political philosophy. He had fought against injustice, he had also argued against the placating policies of the moderates.

Now, he began to put forward a positive political programme centred around the concept of Swaraj, self-rule for India. He realised that the self-rule must precede the meaningful social reform.

National self-rule, he believed, was the only enduring basis for national unity and national self-respect. He reminded people that Shivaji had recreated Swaraj as a necessary foundation of social and political freedom, progress and morality. He, therefore, declared, which in course of time became a famous slogan, that “Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it”.